Azerbaijan “has carried out massive artillery fire targeting Armenian positions and is preparing for a new attack,” a ministry spokesman, Artrun Hovhanisian, wrote on Facebook.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced that it had retaliated against an “Armenian counterattack attempt to regain lost positions” in Nagorno Karabah and “fierce fighting” overnight Monday through Tuesday.
“Azeri forces continued an offensive against the city of Fizuli, destroying four enemy tanks, an armored vehicle and killing ten soldiers on Tuesday morning,” the ministry said in a statement.
The official toll of those bloody clashes rose to at least 100 dead on Tuesday – including 11 civilians, nine Azerbaijanis and two Armenians. However, the real toll could be higher, in the context in which both camps claim to have killed hundreds of enemy soldiers.
The South Caucasus is suddenly on the brink of war again. The Nagorno Karabakh conflict, which has lasted for more than 30 years, has erupted these days. There are dozens of dead on both sides, including civilians, as both sides bomb civilian localities, including the Azerbaijani side bombed the capital of the unrecognized Karabakh entity, Stepanakert. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the bloodiest from the beginning compared to other similar conflicts in the post-Soviet space. During the so-called hot period of this conflict, ie 1989-1994, a total of about 30,000 people died.
But even after the armistice of 1994, and to this day, 4,000 other people have died on both sides, mostly military. 2016 is the year in which something has changed in the dynamics of the relatively frozen conflict. In April 2016, Azerbaijan attempted a widespread offensive, and then in addition to 200 deaths on both sides, Azerbaijan reclaimed several minor portions of its territory de jure. Many experts in the Karabakh conflict speak of an increased desire on the part of Azerbaijan to thaw this conflict, as it is the losing side to the realities of the early 1990s when Armenians in the autonomy of Mount Karabakh, backed by Armenia, occupied 20% of the territory. internationally recognized organization of Azerbaijan.
Two decades later, Azerbaijan is much more prosperous, with a much better-equipped army and new military technologies, two or three times superior to Armenia. In addition, analyst Octavian Milewski writes for RFI, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has distracted key players is mainly the US and France, both of which are part of the Minsk Group under the auspices of the OSCE for negotiating the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
In fact, in July this year, for 4 days there were already intense armed clashes, but inexplicably not on the line of contact between Karabah and Azerbaijan, but north of the separatist region, on the direct border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was then observed that Azerbaijan most likely tested Yerevan’s response capacity, but also the reactionary power of the international community.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a region attached to Azerbaijan in 1923, in a strategy devised by Stalin to keep small nations included in the Soviet Union long-term captive. On the territory of the enclaves designed by Stalin, such as Transnistria, Southern Ostetia, Abkhazia or Nagorno-Karabakh, bloody conflicts took place in the early 1990s, when the USSR collapsed. Then they were frozen, following fragile agreements led by Russia, which in turn has an interest in perpetuating such conflicts, in order to control entire regions that it considers strategic.
This is the case in the South Caucasus, where Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are located, a region at the intersection of geopolitical faults, energy networks and trade routes. The same interests lead Russia to keep the area under surveillance, especially as Azerbaijan begins to become an energy supplier for Europe and Turkey, and Armenia is left out of the infrastructure networks where Baku, Tbilisi and Ankara have been working for a long time.
A traditional ally of Armenia, where it has the military and sophisticated weapons, Russia insists on keeping this frozen conflict untouched, which it can thaw whenever it has a certain interest. Moscow, on the other hand, also has strong relations with Azerbaijan and enjoys preferential prices for the hydrocarbons it buys from the Azerbaijanis and resells them in Europe. According to information gathered by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and published in 2020, Russia has secured all Armenian arms imports in the past five years. In the same period, however, the Russians are the second largest supplier of arms to Azerbaijan, with 31% of imports, after Israel (60%).
This strategy allows Moscow to become indispensable and retain its role as arbiter in the South Caucasus, a role that Turkey, the other regional power, would also like to be able to play. Turkey, on the other hand, is Azerbaijan’s supporter of the “two states, one nation” formula. Turkey believes that the citizens of Azerbaijan should be called Azerbaijani Turks, and their language, which is very similar to Turkish, should be considered the same, Azerbaijani Turkish. The activation of tensions between the two Caucasus neighbors comes in the context of exacerbated competition between Turks and Russians in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Libya and Syria, where their geostrategic interests diverge.
The Nagorno Karabakh conflict can have real implications on a continental scale, especially if key actors supporting one or the other side are drawn into the conflict. Russia is in a military alliance with Armenia, through which it should defend itself if it is attacked. Russia also has a major military base in Armenia and has equipped the Armenian army with Iskander systems capable of reaching any geographical point in Azerbaijan, especially the capital Baku. The same can be said of Turkey and Azerbaijan, which not only call themselves “brotherly states” but also have very close military cooperation. Moreover, Iran is no stranger to the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the one hand, Tehran supports Yerevan politically, geographically and economically, and on the other hand, the Azerbaijani minority in Iran is no less. of 25 million people.